Own a startup? You don’t have to hire a PR firm

Every day I meet people from different walks of life, working on all kinds of great ideas. Their passion and creativity is infectious. In fact, those two qualities encapsulate why I love working with startups. Creativity and passion are essential parts of any successful business. But they’re not the only parts, and there are equally essential supportive elements within any business that need real consideration, time and strategy. PR is one of them. I set up a consultancy to grow businesses through PR, but I don’t believe it’s always necessary for a new business to hire a PR firm. In fact, if funds are tight, or if you’re willing to develop your own skillset, then there are some very good reasons why you shouldn’t hire a PR firm. Here are five of them:

  1. Social Media is free

When I started working in PR it was my job to post out press releases. These days, brands can tell their own story through social media. This may sound obvious, but the person who can tell your story best is you. Your voice and love for what you do will come across on social media better than any PR selling-in. Capitalise on that. A lot of journalists use Twitter to find spokespeople. Using #journorequest is a great — free — way for them to publicize this, and being recognized in case studies, as an expert and spokesperson, is a great way for you to publicize your business.

To make the most of a platform like Twitter, I’d encourage you to build a list of 10–15 journalists who write about your industry and competitors, and start building (non-obsessive) relationships with them. Check what they are talking about on a regular basis, share relevant articles and engage with them. Building these relationships are important for awareness of yourself and your business, and is a helpful mechanic that can lead to press coverage.

2. One size fits no-one

Some PR agencies (but not all, I must stress!) have a scatter gun approach to gaining coverage. I don’t agree with this practice. What use is a killer press release if you then download a media list from a journalist database and punt it out far and wide, to anyone and everyone? This strategy won’t do you or your brand any good, and you’re better off studying a few key titles that you want to be in and directly approaching the right person with a tailored and relevant pitch email. A number of our press contacts say that if an email doesn’t have their name in the subject line then they delete it immediately, with others sometimes blocking PRs that repeatedly send them spam press releases. And I’ll let you in on one of the challenges that PRs face every day: many journalists actually prefer dealing with clients directly. You can take advantage of that.

3. Comment and opinion

This is a piece of content (much like this post), in which you act as a guest author and share your expertise. Comment and opinion pieces give you a chance to tell your story, which by proxy raises your business profile. As I mentioned before, a PR agency isn’t always going to be able to write in your tone of voice, and equally will need your sign off on everything before it can go out. If time and money are an issue for you, then start off by commenting on industry articles. Keep track of who is looking after the opinion columns in print or on the websites you would like to be featured, and spend time working on an individual pitch with suggestions of topics you want to talk about.

4. Events

There are a whole host of networking events and talks available that give access to industry-specific media and details on how best to pitch to them. These events are also great for insight into wider industry issues. In larger cities, the price of a ticket won’t break the bank and the experience will be a lot more fruitful (and cheaper) than inviting a journalist out for coffee or lunch — which in this media climate is pretty difficult anyway, because it’s a challenge for anyone to find the time.

5. Book some training or hire a consultant

Seek out recommendations on Twitter or LinkedIn for PR consultants in your field. Any PR worth their salt will be able to advise you on how to service your business and, if you decide you need it, they’ll also be able to recommend freelance support, training sessions or handover to a bigger agency. Sometimes I meet people with the best business proposition who just can’t afford a retained consultancy. In these cases, at The Wern we offer training packages, review press materials and provide recommendations of relevant media with best practice of how to contact them setting you up with the tools and knowledge to be your own PR.

Originally written for: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/own-a-startup-you-dont-have-to-hire-a-pr-firm_us_57a26548e4b0c863d40010de